of human understanding
2033 K Street, NW Suite #203
Fax (202) 994 - 5225
August 1, 1999
We are writing to bring you up to date with developments in the American Society for Cybernetics and to invite you to renew your membership in this dynamic and intellectually creative organization. As you may know, the Society is now 35 years old and has played a crucial role in the development of second order
cybernetics through the work of major thinkers such as Heinz Von Foerster,
Stafford Beer, Gordon Pask, Herbert Brun and Humberto Maturana.
Heinz Von Foerster tells the story that at the ASC Conference in 1969, Margaret Mead did not have a title for her keynote presentation. Not being able to contact her, he suggested "The Cybernetics of Cybernetics" which lead to an amazingly fruitful expansion of human knowledge through the seminal work at the Biological Computer Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana and a generation of students who contributed to the work "Cybernetics of Cybernetics", recently republished in 1995.
The lineage of so much of the complex systems that we humans have invented and find ourselves living within can be traced to the development of what is now termed "first order" cybernetics in the Macy Conferences held between 1942 and 1959. The American Society for Cybernetics arose from this fertile ground and continues to be a Society filled with brilliant, exciting ideas and rigorous conversations.
In his 1994 book Out Of Control, Kevin Kelly wondered, if the book he was writing about was really about cybernetics, why was the word "cybernetics" so absent from it? This is indeed the question that the American Society for Cybernetics recently asked itself at its annual meeting conducted in Falls Church, close to Washington D.C., last March. The bulk of the meeting was conducted in the form of a Syntegration, a formal methodology based on the work of cybernetician, Stafford Beer. Our guiding question for the syntegration was: "What does Cybernetics Have to Contribute to the 21st Century?" A report on the process and the outcome will be included in our mailings to registered members.
Some of the outcomes of this meeting have already been transformed into specific actions and are incorporated in the accompanying Activity Plan for 1999-2000. Other more general outcomes, having to do with vision and orientation, are
implicit. It is encouraging that, overall, the outcome of asking the question of what cybernetics has to contribute to the next century was couched in the long view. The premise is that we are here for the duration.
But, as you know, on a practical level, the ASC does require funds to organize conferences, provide monographs, and implement its web presence. We have not altered the annual dues, they are still only US$50, students US$25. Dues are now payable. Please register by filling out the enclosed form. If you prefer, you can request an email form from the business office or myself (email addresses included as the last item in the Activity Plan)
Please Register NOW!
By registering, you will indeed receive benefits beyond knowing that you are supporting the operation of the society. You will receive the occasional publications (item 2 in the Activity Plan). You may propose, and if approved by the managing editor, Steve Sloan, produce an edition on whatever topic you consider relevant. You may link your URL to the ASC Website. You may subscribe to one, or both, of two journals (the Journal of Cybernetics and Systems and the Journal of Cybernetics and Human Knowing) for a 20% reduction in the price. And, of course, you are welcome to become engaged in any aspect from web pages to organizing conferences the society is what its members do.
We, the executive, passionately believe that the implications of second order cybernetics are immensely significant for the next century. The work of Von Foerster, Beer, Pask, Brun and Maturana is as least as significant to our understanding of ourselves, how we are and what we do as humans as the revolutionary work in physics of the 20th century. This is why we are committed to keeping the American Society for Cybernetics viable and to maintaining its tradition of intellectually challenging, rigorous conversations that open and deepen our understanding of the observing systems.
Contrary to Kevin Kelleys criticism that cybernetics was strangled by "putting the observer inside the box", (p. 453, Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems and the Economic World, Kevin Kelly, Addison Wesley, 1994) what the ASC demonstrates is the dissolution of that box, an opening to a fundamentally new way of seeing who we are and how we arise as living systems within the living systems of our biosphere; of how, in the nature of our conversations with each other, we bring forth worlds. Some would say it is a new cosmology, others would say it is a new constitutive ontology that deals with the nature of that constitution. As the art and science of human understanding, second order cybernetics provides a truly hopeful manner of addressing the relationships of power that generate so much human misery. We want to work in co-inspiration with all members of this Society to contribute our intellects and imaginations to the difficult challenges that lie ahead for the societies of the 21st century. We invite you to join us!
Pille Bunnell, President Kathleen Forsythe, Vice President